Historic Tobytown eagerly awaits much-needed bus service

Randy Davis, a lifelong resident of Tobytown, welcomes news that Montgomery County plans to test a new bus route that would serve the historic African American community in Potomac. Many residents there lack access to their own transportation and have to ask friends for rides or pay for expensive cab fares. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
A sign outside the Tobytown Community Center in Potomac, Maryland, greets visitors to historic African-American neighborhood. Montgomery County plans to launch a pilot bus service to the community later this year. Residents and even workers in the area lack access to their own transportation and the nearest Ride On bus stop is 3 miles away. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
This sign along River Road in Potomac, Maryland, welcomes visitors to Tobytown, a historic African-American community. Montgomery County plans to launch a pilot bus service to the community later this year. Residents and even workers in the area lack access to their own transportation and the nearest Ride On bus stop is miles away. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
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TOBYTOWN, Md. — Residents of a community founded by former slaves welcome plans to provide bus service to their Tobytown neighborhood along River Road.

Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation plans to launch a one-year pilot project that will extend bus service to the historic African-American community at the intersection of Pennyfield Lock Road and River Road in Potomac.

Randy Davis, a lifelong resident of Tobytown, said he’d welcome the bus service, citing the fact that many residents don’t have cars or belong to single-car families, and the nearest Ride On bus stop is 3 miles away.

Davis, who is 53, said the county experimented with a shuttle bus service years ago.

“That never worked out. It wouldn’t come on time, it didn’t have a direct route, and it was just confusing.”

Davis said reliable transportation could be a game-changer for the neighborhood. He was giving a ride to a neighbor — who didn’t want to give her name to a reporter — but explained she struggled to find regular transportation to her job at a grocery store.

“I either find a ride from neighbors or I catch a cab which is $17” one way to Potomac. “Or I catch a ride with Uber which is $10, and that’s a lot,” she said.

A cab driver who was on his way to pick up a passenger in the Potomac enclave said he often receives calls from workers at area stables — men who travel from as far as Virginia to perform the manual labor on the horse farms and who could benefit from the Ride On service with fares of $1.75.

While Tobytown residents say they’d like to see the Ride On bus come to their community, they do have concerns about where the stop would be located.

In an email, Esther Bowring, a spokesperson for the county’s transportation department, explained the closest stop to Tobytown would be at River Road and River’s Edge, about 800 feet from the entry to Tobytown.

One resident, an older woman who’s lived in the community for decades and declined to be named, said she does have concerns about waiting along that stretch of River Road.

“The cars start speeding down here from the Poolesville area at about 5 o’clock in the morning, and they speed,” she said, estimating that the cars go well in excess of the posted limit of 50 miles per hour.

Standing by the side of the road in the dark or in snowy weather gives her pause. She said a bus stop would have to include a buffer for pedestrians.

“I don’t think it’s safe. It wasn’t safe for the school buses, it’s not safe, period,” she said.

In an email to WTOP, transportation spokesperson Bowring wrote: “In prior meetings, the residents made it clear that they do not want the bus on their property and asked not to be treated differently from any other bus service. One of Ride On’s original budgets for this service assumed the bus would go into the development and included funds for the infrastructure improvements that would have been needed for bus stops within the community.”

A forum on the proposed bus route is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., July 28 at Travilah Elementary School, 13801 Dufief Mill Rd. in North Potomac.

The County Council approved $407,000 for the one-year pilot program, which could start Oct. 1.

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